SGA elections still in limbo
Another semester, another Student Government Association (SGA) election mired in controversy.
Because of a judicial complaint filed Thursday by Sylvan senatorial candidate Brad DeFlumeri, University of Massachusetts students will have to wait at least another week before the results of the 2009 SGA general election are ratified.
The complaint alleges that the election results are invalid because there was only one elections commissioner on site at Worcester Dining Commons between 5 p.m. and 6:27 p.m. on Tuesday, which would be a violation of the bylaws of the University.
DeFlumeri’s complaint alleges that the lack of elections commissioners “represented harmful error” and “may have dissuaded potential voters from participating in the election process and therefore materially altered the outcome and nature of the voting.”
Phone calls to DeFlumeri regarding the complaint were unreturned.
The complaint will be handled by the SGA’s judiciary which, according to speaker Modesto Montero, cannot convene to rule on the complaint for a week.
“They can’t meet until seven days after the official complaint has been filed,” he said. “So they will not meet or vote until next Thursday, so the election cannot be ratified until then.”
Despite the complaint, SGA Chancellor of Elections Chris Faulkner said the instance does not constitute harmful error.
“I was told there was no line, no one was prevented from voting,” he said. “The reason it is not harmful error is because it couldn’t have changed the nature of the vote,” said Faulkner.
Faulkner said he had been assured that having one commissioner on for a brief period would not invalidate the election.
“I discussed the idea of having one commissioner for a short time period with Student Legal Services before the election, and it is not an issue because voting was not interrupted. It is up to those filing the grievance to prove harmful error,” he said.
DeFlumeri’s complaint means the results of the election, which had yet to be ratified by the SGA’s Coordinating Council, which met Wednesday, will not be certified for at least a week, meaning the fate of ballot question two, which concerned moving elections voting online, will also remain undecided for the present.
Question two passed with over 80 percent of the vote Monday and Tuesday, but questions within the SGA about its wording kept them from ratifying the election Wednesday.
Several SGA members attempted to clarify what the problem with the language on the referendum was.
“It wasn’t just a question of, ‘was the wording misleading,’ that actually was not the real question,” said outreach and education coordinator Sam Dreyfus. “The real question was that the wording that Derek [Khanna] submitted to the elections commission was different than the wording that was on the petition that people had circulated last year, so that was the reason the Coordinating Council couldn’t accept it,” he said.
Chancellor of Elections Faulkner said that, when the Coordinating Council met Wednesday, members broached concerns about the referendum’s wording.
“There were concerns about the wording, how it related to last year’s petition,” Faulkner said. “[The petition] included the same stuff, it was just worded differently, the wording had changed.”
The problem therein, according to Faulkner, is that because the wording of this year’s referendum does not match that of the petition signed last year by approximately 2,000 students, is that in changing the wording, the meaning of the petition changes, so it is as though the students had not signed the same petition as the one that was appearing on the ballot.
This prompted several high ranking SGA members to hold off on ratifying the election until they had time to examine the referendum’s wording.
Commuter senator-elect Derek Khanna, who introduced the referendum, said that he has not yet withdrawn the referendum, and plans to schedule a meeting with the Coordinating Council to present his case for why the referendum should be implemented.
“I still haven’t been given the opportunity as of yet to present the referendum from my perspective to the Coordinating Council,” he said. “I’m going to be scheduling a meeting with the Coordinating Council, because I want to settle the questions they may have about the referendum in the next few days so once [DeFlumeri’s] complaint is settled, the Coordinating Council can ratify the entire election.”
Khanna said he wants to invite all SGA members to the meeting he hopes to broker so they can all have a more informed perspective on the referendum and its implications.
“I want to be able to take on any questions that people might have about the referendum,” he said. “I want to be able to explain it and I want people to be able to ask questions so they can do the research they need to vote on it,” Khanna said.
Khanna also noted that the Coordinating Council can only ratify an election or decide to throw it out; it cannot nullify a result it disagrees with.
“They only have the ability to ratify the election, they cannot veto it,” he said. “Throwing out the election is not the same as a veto, you throw out the whole election because there was a procedural problem, not because you disagree with the result,” he said.
Speaker Montero said he believes that, despite the holdups, UMass will see online elections within the next year.
“I have a very strong feeling that by the end of the year, if not early next year, we will have voted on moving forward with online elections,” he said.
“It’s just a matter of working out some of the technical stuff, where the money’s going to come from, how we’re going to implement this new procedure and being confident that it is secure and that people are not going to break the bylaws,” said Montero.
Even if referendum question two is ultimately not ratified by the SGA, the possibility remains that online voting could again be brought forward as a standard resolution. Even though resolutions to move voting online have failed in the past, the recent success of the Students for a Democratic Voice coalition in the general elections could mean there are enough votes to pass one in the near future. It would be hard for the university’s student government to move on to other issues, considering the overwhelming support that the referendum received.
Nick Bush also contributed to this article.
Sam Butterfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nick Bush can be reached at email@example.com.